Before I started looking into the prospects in detail, my understanding was that Cooper was the most NFL ready receiver in college football right now. You see him at Alabama and he makes plays and you listen to any draft analyst and they will wax poetical about the talent of this young man. I don't blame them, he does have a lot of talent that is undeniable. However is he really the out and out best receiver in college football? When I thought about who to compare him with, a few names came to mind. Players like Jaelen Strong from Arizona State, Dorial Green-Beckham from Oklahoma or Sammie Coates from Auburn, all of which possess first round talent. However in the end I chose Kevin White, the receiver who's impressed me more than any other this year in college football.
Kevin White started his college career at Lackawanna College in 2011, before finally moving to FBS competition in 2013 with West Virginia. In his first season he had 507 yards on 35 receptions and 5 touchdowns. This year he's having an incredible season. Through 8 games he has 72 receptions, 1047 yards and 8 touchdowns. Amari Cooper is also having a superb season, with 71 receptions for 1132 yards and 9 touchdowns. As you can see in terms of production, they really aren't very far apart. This is Coopers 3rd college season, and although he suffered a down year last year, he's really bounced back this year to put his name into consideration for the first receiver off the board.
While the Jets have Eric Decker and Percy Harvin, there is no guarantee that Harvin will remain with the team past this season and if he does, having another elite receiver is never a bad thing. The Jets have just extended Kerley which means if we do elect to go with a receiver early next year, the roster should be full of talent at the position.I'm not saying we should draft a receiver, I'm just asking the question: "If we do draft a receiver, who would you prefer?"
As with the quarterbacks, there are several things I look for when evaluating a wide receiver.
- Route Running
- Quickness & Agility
- Acceleration & Release
- Blocking Ability
- Catching In Traffic
- Body Control
- Open Field Ability
I'll be working through each category one by one and then I'll give you my final conclusion at the end.
As far as character goes, there is no reason to suggest Amari Cooper has any issues. He is known as a straight-talker who's very business like. His interviews are usually short and sweet and he strikes you as the kind of person who doesn't want to spend much time in front of the camera. As far as I'm aware he's never had any issues with the law or been suspended by the team. There are no character concerns with Cooper whatsoever.
I did a little research on Kevin due to him only hitting FBS level the last two years. However there were no character issues, he struggled with his grades and had some financial issues which halted a lot of his progress. His coach at Lackawanna said he was sometimes a couple of minutes late to meetings as a freshman but once he returned after missing a season for financial reasons, he was as focused a player as he'd ever seen. He's never had problems with the law, he's never been suspended and if you listen to his coaches now, he's a focused, determined individual. Like with Cooper, there are no character concerns with White at all.
No player is better than the other in this regard, so I'm putting it down as a draw.
Amari Cooper is listed as 6'1 and 210lb's. That's very good size. We've seen in college that he can have some injury problems. In 2013 Cooper missed a couple of games with a foot injury and this year he's had a few nagging injuries after taking some big hits. However as you can see from his production, that hasn't really slowed him down. He uses his body well and his vertical ability does make up for a lack of a few inches in height that you'd ideally like. He's god good bulk and definition throughout. Size isn't a problem with Cooper.
Kevin White is listed as 6'3 and 210lb's. He's 6'3 and he looks the part of the big physical wide receiver. Although he is listed at the same weight as Cooper, White plays a more physical brand of football. he uses his bulk well and he uses every inch of his height to go up and get the football. He knows how to use his body well to box out receivers and he could probably put another 10lb's on that frame without losing anything from his game. If you're evaluating White, you're most definitely putting size in the pro category.
It's close but with the extra height advantage, I'm giving the advantage here to Kevin White.
Cooper has excellent hands, and he catches the ball away from his body well. You won't see him drop many passes that are thrown his way and that's probably why he's had 175 receptions in under three years at Alabama. He high points the ball well and he watches the ball into his hands before he starts to make his next move. I've not seen an Alabama game this year where Cooper has dropped a ball, which is high praise for a college kid. His hands are soft with everything seeming to stick and he manages to bring the ball under control and tuck it away without any wasted motion.
White also has excellent hands, which is why he's had 107 receptions in under two years. In 50% of his games this year, he's had 10 receptions or more and like with Cooper, I don't see many drops out there. He goes out and catches the ball away from his body, he always high points it and his hands are as soft as they come. He's just as good as Cooper and better in one regard. On contested footballs, he will go up and snatch it out of the air. His hands are soft, but they're also very strong as well, and when he does get measured at the combine, I wouldn't be surprised to see him have some of the biggest hands of all receiving prospects.
This one is again very close, but with Whites stronger hands on contested balls, I'm giving this advantage to Kevin White.
This is an area where Cooper really excels. He has an excellent feel for spotting the soft areas in zone coverage and hes smooth in and out of his breaks, with a strong plant foot and the ability to explode out of his cuts. He does play in a more NFL ready offense under Lane Kiffin at Alabama, so he's already running a lot of the NFL route tree. Cooper is accurate and consistent in his route running. In the NFL, QB's run on timing. They need to know that the receiver is going to be where he should be at the right time, which means you need a methodical approach to getting your route running down to a tee. Cooper is a reliable player, he'll be in the right place at the right time and he'll run his routes with precision.
When I first started evaluating Kevin White, I expected him to be Kelvin Benjamin raw in terms of his routes (although looking at how Benjamin is doing in the NFL, perhaps that's not a bad thing), but he simply wasn't. Last year he was a little clunky with his timing and precision and that was to be expected in his first year of FBS football and with so many problems at the QB position. I expected it to continue this year, but the difference is like night and day. He has obviously gone away through the winter and worked at it as he's almost at Coopers level. He has precision, he has excellent recognition, he works back to the ball when needed and although they run a spread offense over there in West Virginia, he shows and amazing finesse to his route running i just didn't expect. He can still do some work on this aspect, but he is a very good route runner, make no mistake about that.
I came in fully expecting this to be a Cooper landslide, and while I do think Cooper is the better route runner, I also think White is only a fraction off and by the time the draft comes along, he could be Coopers equal in this regard.
For now, I'm giving the advantage to Amari Cooper.
Quickness & Agility
Amari Cooper does have excellent quickness. We saw that last year throughout but especially in the Sugar Bowl against Oklahoma where he took a screen on one of the first plays and turned it up-field for a big game. He does get in and out of his breaks quickly with good agility. You can't understate how quickness and agility combined with route running can be a massive positive for a receiver trying to make it to the NFL. He does have good quickness over the middle and to the outside. He showcases his superb quickness and agility on double moves and he sells it so well he often gets corners to bite, especially on stop and go moves that showcase his agility.
Kevin White has outstanding agility for a big man and his quickness is a part of his game that is completely underrated. I saw him take a screen this year against Maryland and use his open field ability and cutting agility to make a host of players miss before taking it into the end-zone. He gets in and out of his cuts well and personally I see more quickness directly out of the cuts and more burst directly out of the cuts with White than I do with Cooper, which is why when you watch him, he always seems to have a yard of separation immediately following his cut. West Virginia really play in this by throwing a number of passes on slants to white.
Again this is such a close call. I consider both prospects to be outstanding in this regard.
For this category, I'm going to call it a draw
It is rumored that Cooper can run a 4.31 in the 40 yard dash. That does translate to the field, if you watch Cooper he'll often challenge the top of the defense with his ability to get in behind. He often runs a lot of vertical routes and he's as his most dangerous when he's running his flag routes. There isn't much to say here other than Cooper is very fast, he's not elite fast, but he is very fast and he'll be able to stretch the field in the NFL.
The only 40 time I saw for White was a 4.49, but i have no idea how accurate that is. He doesn't have the overall speed that Cooper does, but he does seem to have the ability to stretch the field. He also gets up to top speed very quickly with big, long strides. I don't think anyone will question Whites speed when you combine it with other areas of his game.
However if we are talking out and out vertical speed, I'm giving the advantage to Amari Cooper
Acceleration & Release
I watched the games against Ole Miss, Arkansas and West Virginia this year and Cooper didn't seem to possess the acceleration or release that I was expecting. When faced with press man coverage, he seems to struggle a little to get his clean release and if he doesn't get that, his acceleration to top speed is delayed. However I then watched the game against Florida whee Cooper went off to the tune of 201 yards and 3 touchdowns, and his release and acceleration were exceptional. Which will we see more often? his statistics suggest that the Florida game was more accurate however it's obviously a little inconsistent to say the least.
This is an area where I really like Kevin White. His release off the line is quick, efficient and powerful. When faced with press coverage, he uses his hands well and gets off without any problems, he then accelerates quickly to reach top speed. As mentioned earlier, I like the explosion that White exhibits out of his breaks and a lot of the time he's able to get that inside edge on slants because his acceleration and release off the line are so crisp and efficient.
Again both of these players are excellent in this regard, with Acceleration it seems Cooper may have the edge overall, although it only showed up in one game for me. However with release, I'm giving it to White all day. So putting them both together.
In this category, the advantage goes to Kevin White
Someone tried to convince me not that long ago that Cooper was an elite blocker. You'll never convince me of that. Having seen a lot of Alabama football over the past three years, Cooper's blocking has always been a big flaw in his game. He doesn't quite grasp the angles of blocking and he'll be ineffective while blocking someone in the back because he didn't get his timing or angles down. Now blocking for a receiver, isn't a major part of the game and if you manage it correctly, it can actually be a relatively minimal part. However I sometimes see a lack of effort in the blocking game and that's never OK. Alabama ran the ball a lot before Kiffin got to town and they do still run it a lot, so I thought Cooper would drastically improve this aspect of his game. Unfortunately, I still consider Cooper to be a poor blocker.
Kevin White also isn't a great blocker, to be perfectly honest, not a lot of college kids are because it's the most boring aspect of their job. However he does understand angles a lot better and he plays the blocking game with as much enthusiasm as when he's out in patterns. He has a big body and a lot of upper body strength which means if he gets his hand placement right, he can be a very effective blocker. I've seen him block on screens and runs where the play has been sprung thanks to his blocking ability. I would classify him as a good blocker with the potential to be a great one. On occasions he can get his hand placement wrong resulting in him being called for holding penalties or nearly called for holding penalties.
In this category, I give the advantage to Kevin White
Catching In Traffic
A lot of Coopers completions come down the sideline where for some reason, a lot of defenses leave him in single coverage or if you're Tennessee, don't cover him at all (see last year). So he doesn't work over the middle as much and he doesn't catch in traffic all that much. As he has the speed to get behind defenses, a lot of his catches come without any defensive backs challenging him, you can't criticize him for that though.However when he does catch in traffic he does so with soft hands and reliability. He will go and challenge for the ball but he won't always come down with it. He's not afraid to go over the middle and I remember a game against Auburn when he caught a ball with 4 defenders around him and took it to the house.
Kevin White also works the sideline a lot, but because of the quickness and size, he does come over the middle a lot as well. Again against Maryland this year, he ran a deep post route and he was covered by two players but somehow he managed to come down the ball over the middle. It was a great play and it shows the concentration and ability to catch in traffic.
With White doing it more and going over the middle more.
In this category, I give the advantage to Kevin White.
One of the key aspects for any receiver is being able to adjust to the ball once it is in the air. Now with Cooper, he is exceptional at this. He runs a lot of deep routes and as a result the ball catches the wind or there is some alteration mid pattern or the ball is underthrown and he has the body control to make the adjustments on the ball and come down with the completion. He works close to the sideline and he always knows how to catch the ball to ensure he comes down with it inbounds. He exhibits excellent balance and I've seen him turn to locate the ball when it's been thrown to the wrong shoulder. When it comes to body control, I can't fault Coopers game.
Kevin White does have good body control and he makes several adjustments easily.. Last year with West Virginia experiencing some poor QB play, he had to adjust to poorly thrown balls on a regular basis and he did that with good balance and agility. This year I have seen him stumble a few times when being asked to adjust at the last second, however it's really not an area for concern.
In this category, I give the advantage to Amari Cooper
Open Field Ability
Getting the ball into Coopers hands should be a priority for any coordinator. He does have excellent open fieldability because he combines his speed, with his quickness and agility. He has some moves to make people miss and he has surprising strength to carry defenders into the end zone. He has elite athleticism that will thrive on pass and run offenses that rely on bubble screens and short slants. It's easy to consider Cooper a speed guy, but he runs with a physicality that you just won't expect. In a west coast offense that relies on runs after the catch, Cooper will be a very good player at the next level.
Kevin Whites open field ability is severely underrated. As I mentioned earlier, I saw him take a screen pass to the house against Maryland due to his ability to not only catch those short passes and turn it upfield in a hurry, but because he has strength, vision, acceleration and good top end speed, mix that in with some open field moves and you've got yourself one hell of a player. He's not quite as effective with the ball in his hands as Cooper but he's certainly not far off.
In this category, I give the advantage to Amari Cooper.
So there we have it folks. I've taken a look at two of the top college prospects and given you my opinion on each aspect of their game. In the end we had 11 categories to address and the results:
Kevin White Advantages: Size, Hands, Acceleration & Release, Blocking Ability and Catching in Traffic.
Amari Cooper Advantages: Open Field Ability, Body Control, Speed and Route Running.
Draws: Character, Quickness & Agility
If I'm being completely honest. I would love either of these players on the Jets. I like the speed, after the catch potential and body control of Cooper. However I love the size, hands, catching ability and acceleration of Kevin White. I also think that Kevin White has only had two years of FBS level coaching and while Coopers only had slightly more, the potential for Kevin White is extraordinary. People are comparing him to Larry Fitzgerald both in NFL circles and college circles and for good reason. He combines speed with pure power and the ability to catch almost everything thrown his way.
If I were the GM of the Jets, this would be a tough decision to make. On one hand, Cooper in a west coast offense is going to do very well. His vision with the ball in his hands is elite and worth noting. On the other, it's been a long time since we've had this physical specimen capable of breaking a game open either with his speed, his power, his size or a combination of all three. There is a lot to like with both, however: